Roaming Free - One Woman's Incredible Journey To Wellness
Much like a good mountain path life is a whole lot of ups and downs, sublime moments of walking delight or sweaty sweary heart-breaking climbs.
In 2010 Terra Roam’s path through life fell into a crevasse so dark and lonely, she didn’t think she was going to make it out. In desperation to escape the darkness, she tried taking her own life; but Terra’s spirit of survival was stronger. Upon admitting herself to the hospital, not only did she find the right professional therapy, but also extensively researched the state of mental health in Australia and faced up to some unavoidable self-awareness.
Discovering she was not alone and that the feeling of loneliness is a common thread through mental illness and stress, brought her to a powerful moment where she decided to use her own survival story as a catalyst for hope, and shine a light into the darkness that can be a mental illness. From here she launched into a crazy remarkable life-changing journey.
A walk around Australia carrying a message of hope health and happiness, on foot, to remote and regional places across the country. So far the walk has taken more than four years and nearly covered 15,000kms.
Terra describes herself as being a very active outdoorsy person with a long list of adventure pursuits under her belt. Sailing to bike touring, trail running to snowshoeing, bushwalking to bodyboarding, abseiling to caving. Basically, everything that was clean fun adventure. Her privileged life, as she describes it, of freedom and wanderlust also came with multiple traumatic events from childhood and adult years, including depression and Asperger's syndrome.
Entirely alone and self-funded for the first 10,000kms, without a support vehicle or admin/PR team, Terra has been pretty much a one-woman show, with lots of moral support and donations from people all over the world. For the remote and outback sections, she pushed a light 200 Ltr custom alloy barrow she designed and has recently switched to an ultralight 45 Ltr backpack for the east coast leg to give her the freedom of walking in the bush and along beaches.
On an earlier solo walk in 2010, Terra experienced situations that pushed her beyond her coping mechanisms. Stalked, abused, glass bottles thrown at her along with death threats meant that she lost all interest in her outdoor passions, locked herself inside and gained 40kgs.
Knowing something was wrong but not knowing anything about mental illness at that time she assumed she was just not coping.
She told herself to ‘stop being lazy’ that she was probably 'having a mid-life crisis' or was 'stuck in a rut'. Urging herself to ‘get over it’, ‘suck it up princess’, 'get a grip’, 'you’re making a big deal out of nothing’. Scared and confused, she was lost and in her ignorance of mental health care, doing all the wrong things.
Even through these experiences, Terra describes herself as ‘one of the lucky ones’ who survived suicide attempts and eventually found a good therapist.
The first three most helpful things her therapist did were: listen without judging, handed her a Lifeline card and showed her how she had always effectively used nature, adventure and solitude as therapy since the first signs of mental illness began in 1978.
After each session, Terra’s therapist gave her homework. Go for a walk!
Some of you reading this might recognise your own story reflected in Terra’s and know from personal experience the incredible mental health benefits of walking. Terra’s walk has been a positive and life-changing event. Although never physically easy, the further she walks the healthier she becomes in body, mind and spirit.
The list of benefits Terra describe is worthwhile highlighting and include:
- The boosting of serotonin, dopamine and melatonin levels through fresh air, sunshine, exercise and resetting her body clock to align with nature.
- Shared moments of joy with the people she has met on her journey.
- Goal achievement. Setting daily achievable goals with a pat on the back each time they are achieved.
- Overcoming obstacles out in the wild strengthens resilience, builds self-confidence and creates new healthy neural pathways.
- Terra’s obstacles ranged from PTSD and depression relapses, surviving cyclones, floods, blizzards and heatwaves, recovering from pneumonia and most recently the psychological blow of needing surgery to plate a broken ankle only 1,000kms from completing her next lap.
- The outdoors provides meditation and mindfulness increasing consciousness, expanding compassion, self-love, nature appreciation while being in the moment of stillness.
- Walking is a physical activity with numerous wellbeing benefits, with a reminder from Terra - It’s free!
The Happy Walk is an integral part of her recovery but has also helped thousands of people along the way. Talking in schools, YMCA, health centres and festivals is a tiny part of it. The one-on-one encounters beside the road, at farm gates, in rest areas, over a coffee in a roadhouse with people who heard or read her story in the media, who just need someone to listen had the most significant impact on both the people she meets and her own journey.
Her message of hope, strength and recovery has saved many lives directly and indirectly.
"I set out thinking if I can help save just one life I will have achieved my goal and now people often write and phone, sometimes catch up with me again on the road to tell me our conversation saved their life.Goal achieved!"
For the last four years, she has also been fundraising and raising awareness about Lifeline’s 24/7 mental health crisis hotline; chosen because at times she needed to use the Lifeline card her therapist gave her. So far Terra has raised over $20,300 to help keep the Lifeline hotlines open, equivalent of 812 calls for help answered by a trained phone counsellor.
If you would like to help cover some of the costs of the walk like food, replacement gear, sports therapy, clothing, shoes, batteries, stove fuel, camping fees, emergencies, phone and data you can help fund Terra’s journey:
So what will Terra do next we ask?
Well, my real name is Terra Roam and I have just launched a new website in preparation for the next big adventure. It is called Terra Roams, and I hope to explore much more of Australia and around the world with human-powered minimalist vagabond adventure companions and share our insights, joy and adventures. Please join me. Roam further. Look deeper into Nature. Challenge yourself.